Sculthorpe: String Quartet No. 8; String Quartet No. 11 (Jaribu Dreaming); String Quartet No. 13 (Island Dreaming); Little Serenade; From Nourlangie; Maranoa Lullaby

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COMPOSERS: Sculthorpe
LABELS: Vanguard
WORKS: String Quartet No. 8; String Quartet No. 11 (Jaribu Dreaming); String Quartet No. 13 (Island Dreaming); Little Serenade; From Nourlangie; Maranoa Lullaby
PERFORMER: Anne Sofie von Otter (mezzo-soprano); Brodsky Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 99215
These quartets by Peter Sculthorpe (70 last year) are variously rooted in the landscape and Aboriginal music of his native Australia, and in the musical traditions of SEAsia. These influences are often mixed: for example, the Eleventh Quartet uses didjeridu music from the Kakadu National Park, an Aboriginal chant, Balinese rhythms, and the bush call of ‘Cooee!’. But then Sculthorpe’s music is neither transcription nor travelogue, but a fresh and stimulating synthesis of different elements, far removed from the Western tradition in its impersonality and its avoidance of what he calls ‘the European heroic gesture’.

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The fact that Sculthorpe has written so much, and so well, for such a traditional grouping attests both to the universality of the medium, and to the imagination of quartets like the Brodskys – who commissioned the recent Thirteenth Quartet, an atmospheric seascape, and who play this whole programme with precision and spirit. The equally adventurous von Otter is almost unrecognisable with her vibrato-less chest tones in the new work, but closer to her normal self (though oddly distant from the microphones) in Maranoa Lullaby – one of three treasurable miniatures which add little to the playing-time of this disc, but much to its appeal. Anthony Burton